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NASW Law Note: Legal Rights of Students
NASW Law Note
NASW General Counsel, NASW Legal Defense Fund
ISBN: 978-0-87101-425-2. 2011. Item #4252. 76 pages.

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The Legal Rights of Students is part of a series of General Counsel Law Notes written with the support of the NASW Legal Defense Fund.

This law note reviews major legal issues affecting the practice of school social workers under the multitude of jurisdictions that exercise control over public and private schools in the United States and includes:

  • a brief summary of the history of school social work as a specialty practice;

  • an overview of school social worker credentialing from the perspectives of NASW state licensing boards;

  • an elaboration of legal rights within the public education system, including the right to a public education, parental rights, rights to receive special education services, rights of LGBT students, and rights designed to protect the interest of diversity within schools and eliminate systemic gender-based discrimination;

  • a discussion of sensitive issues related to students' rights and the school environment, including harassment in school, search and seizure, drug testing, student dropout, student homelessness, and transportation of students in school personnel's private vehicles; and

  • an examination of issues specifically related to the provision of social work services in schools - parental consent, confidentiality , and information sharing (including Section 1.07 of the NASW Code of Ethics, Privacy and Confidentiality).

The Legal Rights of Students provides an introduction to significant legal issues regarding social work practice in U.S. schools. It is not intended to provide answers to specific legal problems in particular schools or as a substitute for consultation with an attorney regarding the local, state, or federal laws that are relevant to specific legal questions.

The NASW General Counsel Law Note series provides information to social workers about legal topics of concern to the social work profession. The Law Notes are developed with the support and financial assistance of the NASW Legal Defense Fund (LDF). Contents vary by title, but generally include legal information, civil procedure, contracts, legal methods, and glossaries. Checklists, timetables, case law, and other resources help social workers understand and exercise their legal rights and responsibilities as well as the rights and responsibilities of their clients.

History of School Social Work

School Social Worker Credentials

NASW School Social Work Standards and Credentialing
State Licensing or Credentialing Standards
Exemptions from State Board of Social Work Licensing Requirements
Legal Rights within the Public Education System

Right to Public Education
Parental Rights
Parental Rights and Religious Education
Homeschooling and Mandatory School Attendance
Right to Special Education Services
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Instruction in English versus Instruction in Student’s Native Language
Rights of Immigrant Children
Rights of LGBT Students
Recognition and Support for LGBT Students
Right to Form Student Groups
Protection from Harassment in Schools
Diversity in Schools
Gender-Based Rights
Programs Subject to Title IX
Substantive Protections of Title IX and Interscholastic Athletics
Issues Related to the School Environment

Harassment in Schools
Search and Seizure
Strip Searches
Drug Testing
Student Dropouts
Homeless Students
Transporting Students in Private Vehicles
Issues Related to Social Work Services within the School

Parental Consent for Treatment
Confidentiality and Information Sharing
NASW Code of Ethics, Section 1.07, Privacy and Confidentiality
Confidentiality and Information Sharing with Parents
Confidentiality Dilemmas

Appendix A: School Social Worker Statutes
Appendix B: Supplemental Materials

It is the position of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) that the nation’s school systems are responsible for providing "all students with free, appropriate, quality education" to prepare them for full, productive, and intelligent participation in society on reaching adulthood.1 The U.S. Constitution does not protect the right to an education2; however, denying children an education would deny them "the ability to live within the structure of our civil institutions, and [would] foreclose any realistic possibility that they will contribute... to the progress of our nation."3

School social workers are significant contributors to the formative years of children in U.S. schools. In many school systems across the country, school social workers are among a select group of professionals who are able to address the "personal and social problems that inhibit a student’s ability to learn."4 Furthermore, the role of the school social worker has evolved into a link between the family, the school, and the community.5

This law note reviews a number of the legal issues that affect the practice of social workers within the schools and under the multitude of jurisdictions that exercise control over public and private schools. Generalizations do not provide answers to specific legal problems in a particular school.

Reference often must be made to the layers of local, state, and federal laws and regulations, and to the requirements of credentialing bodies. This law note is not intended to be a substitute for legal consultation regarding specific issues that affect social workers.

1. National Association of Social Workers, Education of Children and Youths, in Social Work Speaks: National Association of Social Workers Policy Statements 111, 114 (7th ed. 2003). [Return]

2. Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 221 (1981) (citing San Antonio Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1, 35 (1973)). [Return]

3. Id. at 223. [Return]

4. NASW, Education of Children and Youths, supra note 1, at 114. [Return]

5. Id. [Return]